RALEIGH (July 23, 2001) -- Today’s signing of standout right winger Shane Willis to a one-year deal brings the Carolina Hurricanes closer to returning the core of the 2000-01 squad.
To this point the one exception is center and alternate captain Rod Brind’Amour. Last season, the 29-year-old completed his second campaign in Carolina with 56 points (20g, 36a), good for fourth among Hurricanes scorers.
Brind’Amour came to Carolina in the Jan. 23, 2000 trade that sent holdout center Keith Primeau to Philadelphia. Carolina also picked up goaltender Jean-Marc Pelletier and a second-round draft pick in the deal while Philadelphia scored a fifth-round pick.
Brind’Amour is a restricted free agent who did not file for arbitration by the July 15 deadline. That means, in theory, he accepted his qualifying offer from the club.
“Rod Brind’Amour, for all intents and purposes, is signed because he passed arbitration,” said Carolina General Manager Jim Rutherford. “In the worst case, he will take his qualifying offer. But, with him becoming an unrestricted free agent a year from now, our preference would be to sign him to a long-term deal, and that’s what we’ll work on.”
It’s too early to say that Ron Francis, Carolina’s keystone attendance draw and captain, may retire following the 2001-02 season. Francis led the Hurricanes with 50 assists in 2000-01 and finished second on the team with 65 points, but he will turn 39 during the coming season.
“You have to expect that at some point,” said Rutherford of Francis’ retirement. “He’s given us what we’ve expected. Certainly we have to look to the future at some point and that’s when other guys will have to step up, like (Josef) Vasicek. But, just because this is the last year of (Francis’) contract doesn’t mean it’s his last year.”
The Hurricanes see the possibilities of making Brind’Amour their next Francis, the next player to wear the ‘C’ on his sweater and carry the flag for the organization.
“He would be a capable guy,” said Rutherford. “Right now we have two very capable alternate captains in Brind’Amour and (Glen) Wesley and we have a couple of other guys who could step into that role. So we’ll have to deal with that when the time comes.”
Carolina did lose role players Rob DiMaio and Dave Karpa when the National Hockey League’s free agent season opened July 1. Also, Kevin Hatcher, last year’s ice-time leader, did not exercise his option to return for 2001-02 by the July 1 deadline and Scott Pellerin opted to test the league’s free agent waters.
“The main two guys we have to work on are the arbitration cases, (Marek) Malik and (Bates) Battaglia,” said Rutherford. “Other than that, the other guys will end up taking their qualifying offers.”
Many Hurricanes, like Willis, are signed to one-year deals or have one year remaining on their contracts. While some might say that keeping the team together following 2001-02 will be tough, Rutherford hopes he and Assistant General Manager Jason Karmanos have to rise to the challenge.
“I hope next summer is a tough summer for us because that will mean all of these guys will come off of big years,” said Rutherford. “Every once in a while you run into off-seasons where a lot of guys’ contracts are up. Pittsburgh’s dealing with it this year; they’ve got six guys going to arbitration. Certainly next year we could be looking at several guys that may be in that position. Hopefully all these guys have good years and we can come to terms with them, and if we don’t, we’ll use the system and we’ll go to arbitration with them.”
As for Brind’Amour, fear not.
“Rod Brind’Amour will be back, but it’s a matter of is it short-term or long-term,” said Rutherford. “But the core of last year’s team is back and we’ve added some guys like (Tom) Barrasso, (Chris) Dingman and (Aaron) Ward. These guys are guys who, in different ways, can help our team.”
Carolina Hurricanes Website Reporter Kyle S. Hanlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.